Farmers: Kristin and Mark Kimball
First season: 2003
What they raise: Mixed vegetables,
dairy, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, dairy, wheat,
rye, oats, corn, oilseed sunflowers, maple syrup,
cherries, apples, plums, pears.
Location: On Lake Champlain,
a little south of Burlington VT.
Marketing strategies: Year-round
CSA for 25 families.
2005. I didn't go looking for farming, nor
was I looking for a husband. I was there strictly for the
interview. My subject was a tall, articulate farmer running
a big CSA in central Pennsylvania. The next thing I knew,
I had a hoe in my hand, and Farmer Mark and I were talking
as we made our way down opposite sides of the same row of
broccoli. Somewhere in the smell of turned dirt and sting
of worked muscles, something clicked. I never did write up
that interview, but within the year I had left my little apartment
in Manhattan and promised to marry the farmer. He left the
farm in Pennsylvania and found a wonderful landowner willing
to lease us 500 acres in the unknown territory of Northeastern
New York, with the hope we could build a farm and permanent
a home there.
We moved to Essex Farm in November of 2003. The soil was
good but the land had not been cropped in 20 years, and everything
stood in need of fixing. It was too late to plow that first
fall, so we focused on what we could do. We took down some
of the dilapidated buildings, made space in the ones that
remained, and started acquiring livestock. First came Delia,
our sweet-natured milk cow. Then, our team of Belgian geldings,
Sam and Silver. Then another milk cow, and six pigs, and a
starter beef herd. A hundred chicks under the brooder, and
then the third milk cow. By the time we ordered our seeds,
we'd pretty much spent our savings, and it was time to acquire
some members. We started with seven brave pioneers. (By mid-season,
we had 15.) They each own a share of everything we raise and
grow. Our goal then, as now, was to provide our members with
year-round access to food produced on our farm, in unlimited
quantity and with enough variety that they wouldn't need to
go to the grocery store at all. That meant building a highly
diversified farm right away, which turned out to be an extremely
As snow melted and spring got underway, it dawned on me I
had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Like most urban
people, I was not used to physical work. I had no skills that
were of any use. Everything I did—from driving the team,
to learning to set the dang Nibex seeder, to making cheese—was
new and awkward and needed to be done right away. By June,
there was no time to change course. For better or worse, we
had set a big living machine in motion, and we had to tend
it. Mark and I were both working as hard as we could, and
we were still falling behind. What should have been minor
bumps in the road—a lame horse, a broken plow—set
us way back. We were late going in with seeds and transplants,
and weeds crept up on us. This was the simple life? The stress
was incredible! That we both made it through the first season
here without permanent injury and still in love is a miracle.
At the same time, I felt like I had discovered something
no less profound than the secret to happiness. This work was
exhausting, but it was deeply satisfying. There was a direct,
nourishing connection between our effort and our product.
Moreover, most of the work was not like work at all. There's
no better place in the world than behind the team's willing
haunches, smelling the good smell of their sweat, listening
to the hypnotic thunk of the big feet.
And despite the setbacks, thanks largely to Mark's 10 years
of experience, the farm produced bountifully. From six tilled
acres came more vegetables than our members could eat, and
root crops to store for the winter (with enough excess to
feed our animals and more). We had the land hayed, and kept
enough to get our own beasts through winter. We did not make
enough cash to pay ourselves a salary, but we did manage to
increase our net worth. In the fall, just as the pumpkins
turned orange, we were married in the loft of the horse barn,
with that good smell of horse seeping up through the floorboards.
What did I learn in my first season? That insomnia is not
among the farmer's afflictions, and sleep can be a thick velvety
pleasure that one falls into at the close of a day. That animals
are not at all like people with fur. That the green bounty
of the earth is firmly locked to the magnificent, age-old,
sweaty struggle to reap it. That some farm days end in high-fives
and others in tears. One night last spring it was the latter,
brought on by utter fatigue and some now-forgotten frustration.
Our neighbor Steve, who has farmed for nearly all his eighty
years, pulled up in his truck as I was indulging in a good
weep. He looked at my streaky face, asked no questions, passed
a can of ice-cold beer out the truck window and said, 'Well.
That's farming.' Then he drove off, to his own evening chores.